Presto… Pesto

When you think of pesto, you probably envision the traditional pesto alla genovese: mashed basil leaves with tons of olive oil, pine nuts, and parmesan cheese… which probably means you’re not eating much of it these days, what with dairy being fooda non grata (yes, I made that up!) on our dino-chow menus.

I’ve got good news: There are lots of tasty ways to make pesto varieties that don’t involve any cheese at all. Alert your taste buds!

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Top Five Things You Should Know About Pesto


The word pesto comes from pesta which means “to pound, to crush” which makes pesto the ideal food for superheroes such as yourself who are accustomed to crushing workouts and self-doubt on a regular basis.


Pesto is basically just a paste made from herbs, garlic, and oil. With nuts, it’s pesto. Without nuts, it’s pistou (French!)


In Sicily, pesto alla siciliana adds tomatoes; in Calabria the pesto alla calabrese is made spicy with the addition of roasted bell peppers and black pepper. In Germany, ramsons leaves are used instead of basil. (What the devil is ramsons? It’s a wild relative of chives.)


Pesto will turn bitter if cooked, so mix it into warm foods off the stove, rather than during cooking.


It’s the simplest recipe you’ll ever encounter. Just throw the ingredients into a blender and push the button. Less than 5 minutes to magic.

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Basil and Walnut Pesto

If sunshine had a smell, it would be the aroma of basil. Making a batch of homemade pesto can feel like a quick jaunt to a sunny Mediterranean coast. I include a small amount of parsley in this basil pesto to sweeten the leaves a bit in the absence of Parmesan. Toss with zucchini noodles and fresh room temperature tomato slices, or mix into pork meatballs for a delicious twist.

  • 2 cups fresh basil leaves, packed

  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

  • 1/3 cup pine nuts or walnuts

  • 2-3 cloves fresh garlic, crushed

  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste


Purée all ingredients in a blender or food processor to desired consistency. Allow the flavors to meld for about 30 minutes before eating and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

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Mediterranean Parsley-Mint Pesto

Fresh and sunny. It’s like a mini Greek vacation in a taste sensation.

  • 1 bunch of fresh mint (about 1.5 cups)

  • 1 big handful of fresh parsley (about 1 cup)

  • juice of half a lemon

  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

  • 1 clove garlic, peeled

  • 1/2 tsp salt

  • pinch of red pepper flakes


Purée all ingredients in a blender or food processor to desired consistency. Allow the flavors to meld for about 30 minutes before eating and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

dotted linePistou de Provence

Ooh la la!

  • 1 tablespoon crushed garlic

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

  • 4 1/2 cups basil leaves, torn into pieces (2 ounces)

  • 1/4 cup coarsely grated plum tomatoes

  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil


Purée all ingredients in a blender or food processor to desired consistency. Allow the flavors to meld for about 30 minutes before eating and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

dotted lineMint Chutney

This one is spicy and Indian-influenced. Really tasty with cauliflower curry fried f’rice and grilled meat.

  • 2 cups loosely packed mint

  • 1/2 jalapeno

  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

  • 2 tablespoons chopped onion

  • 1 tablespoon lime juice

  • 2 teaspoons lime rind

  • 1/4 teaspoon dried ginger or 1 teaspoon minced fresh

  • 1/4 teaspoon salt


Purée all ingredients in a blender or food processor to desired consistency. Allow the flavors to meld for about 30 minutes before eating and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

dotted lineTasty Ideas

So… what should you do with this aromatic bounty?


Dollop on grilled chicken, lamb, shrimp, or fish.


Stir into hot, cooked vegetables: sliced zucchini or yellow squash, chopped broccoli, mashed cauliflower, sautéed baby spinach, spaghetti squash, mashed eggplant.


Make salads! Tomato & cucumber salad: Toss finely chopped tomatoes and cucumbers with 1/2 teaspoon pesto, 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, and 2 teaspoons lemon juice.


Sauté fresh sliced tomatoes and while still warm, toss with pesto then pile on top of cold baby spinach.


Sauté fresh zucchini noodles and while still warm, toss with pesto, then pile on a bed of spaghetti squash and sprinkle with pine nuts.


Toss with green and black olives and nosh… or let the olives marinate in the pesto overnight, then add sliced olives to veggies or grilled meats.


Stir a spoonful into hot vegetable soup or plain bone broth for a cup of warm love.

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Print this recipe
MMM: Chicken Pesto Meatballs In Marina

This recipe is part of March Meatball Madness; get all the recipes right here. Spinning today: tender chicken meatballs, fragrant with pesto, gently cooked in...

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  • Muslfetish says:

    Have I told you lately that I love you! Can't wait to try~yum!

  • Melicious says:

    You can tell I love you back because I'm sharing all my best dino-chow recipes 😉

  • MelissaG says:

    Bless ya girl. I won't eat another tastless naked meal again!

  • Barbara says:

    So when is the recipe book coming out? :)

  • Abby says:

    This is perfect! I just got a ton of basil from the farmer's market and needed a great pesto recipe. Thanks!

  • Melicious says:

    Awesome! Glad to be helpful. I have a big ol' bunch of basil that's waiting for the mint to arrive from Greenling today… mmmm.

  • Melissa G says:

    The phrase "accustomed to crushing workouts and self doubt" made me laugh out loud – love it!

    Mmm, these recipes sound tasty! Can't wait to try them out. I've got my eye on #5!

  • Emily G says:

    For the mint chutney – what is the last ingredient? All I see is “1/2 teaspoon”
    Thanks! I can’t wait to try this one!

    • Mel says:

      Sorry about that! It’s salt… and I changed it to 1/4 teaspoon because the last time I made this, I thought it was a little too salty. It should be good now! Enjoy!

  • Jaime R says:

    Pesto also freezes really well.. I started freezing it last summer when my basil plants were going crazy.. all the research i did said to freeze it without the cheese(pre paleo diet days) and it works great, put it in a ziplock bag and suck the air out with a straw..Viola!!! pesto all year without the $$$

  • Renee says:

    Have you ever made chimichurri sauce? It’s the Argentinian version of pesto. It’s amazing on every kind of meat, spaghetti squash, eggs… I make it with flat leaf parsley, cilantro, olive oil, garlic, red-wine vinegar, red pepper flakes, and cumin. I think I originally got the recipe from epicurious…

    Speaking of recipes, did I mention I can’t wait to get your book :)

    • Mel says:

      Hey, Renee! As a matter of fact… there’s a totally badass chimichurri sauce recipe in Well Fed. Great minds :-)

      I made a version a few summers ago that was published on the Whole9 site, and I spiffed it up and put it in Well Fed. SO god on steak. OMG.

      Have fun with Well Fed! And thanks for commenting!

  • Qy says:

    With the summer in full swing, I’ve been making pesto like a well-EVOOed machine. I usually use a combo of kale, spinach, basil, garlic scapes, basically whatever is growing in my garden. Today, inspired by your post above plus many of your recipes in Well Fed, I included a bunch of flat-leaf parsley. Verdict: it’s the best batch I’ve made all summer! Thanks, Mel, for all your inspiration inside and outside the kitchen and gym.

  • Karyn says:

    Love your recipes Mel! Add any of these to your homemade mayo and you’ve got a fabulous creamy salad dressing. If it’s too thick, just thin it with a little water or lemon juice.

  • jules says:

    I’m planning on making the mint chutney this weekend because I have an abundance (total understatement!) of it in my garden. Any recommendations on what type of protein it works best with? Also, how long will it last in the fridge? Thanks!!

  • Julie says:

    The basil in my garden just exploded, and inspired me to try your pesto recipe from Well Fed. It was absolutely delish!! (Who needs parmesan anyway??) We spooned it onto your grilled chicken thighs recipe (which is also sheer brilliance in all of it’s simplicity) and it was perfect! I am such a fan, I can’t even tell you. I totally love your approach to food, especially the “you know how you could do that?” mentality… I totally relate to you, as I grew up with a dad from Syria and mom from Greece, and we all love to EAT. But since I went Paleo 8 months ago I have found a whole new passion for cooking, and I have to say, you have been a HUGE inspiration! Thank you so much for your creative ideas, and I cannot WAIT for Well Fed 2 to come out!

    • Mel says:

      Lucky you, with your basil! YAY! Really glad you like this recipe… still very tasty even without cheese, right?

      Sounds like you have awesome food in your family. I want to come to your family reunion! :-)

      Congratulations on making the switch to paleo… and thanks for the Well Fed 2 enthusiasm!

  • Jaime says:

    Pesto(With Or Without Cheese)Is A Great Marinade For Shrimp

  • Tianna says:

    I made your chimichurri the other night and threw it on roasted vegetables and leftover salmon….I was sooo good. Perfectly salty and spicy and the parsley wasn’t overwhelming….I’m not usually a fan of it. I just gained another fridge staple. :)

  • Jacqi says:

    I LOVE pesto and can’t wait to try all these versions. I grow tons of basil in my community garden plot each summer just to make pesto. I always have made it without cheese as it is more versatile. But I freeze it in ice cube trays and then put the cubes in zip lock freezer bags so I can take out exactly what I need. Works great.

  • Chris R says:

    I have just ordered your cookbooks and been drooling over your recipes online while waiting. I make pesto with almonds rather than pine nuts (more economical) and nutritional yeast rather than cheese. I know there are different schools of thought about nutritional yeast=paleo. It’s delish and you can freeze it in ice cube trays for single serve use.

    Thank you for putting together such amazing recipes and cookbooks! My grocery list to make my favorites is now 38 pages long 😉

    • Mel says:

      I have no problem with nutritional yeast — except I don’t like the way it tastes :-) But if you do, go for it!

      I’m really glad you’re tempted by my recipes. Have fun with the cookbooks! Thank you!


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